April 21, 2022
From farm to sea: conserving mangroves to protect local livelihoods and the planet
Apple’s partnership with the Applied Environmental Research Foundation will help protect and conserve mangroves in Maharashtra, India
Just 60 miles south of the bustling Indian coastal city of Mumbai in Maharashtra, two distinct worlds emerge. The bustling city – full of skyscrapers, restaurants, hotels, shopping districts, countless tuk-tuks and modern cars – crumbles as unpaved roads, palm trees, goats, cows pulling carts and small outdoor markets and restaurants appear. .
In Raigad district, Alibaug connects Mumbai to a network of rivers branching off from the Arabian Sea. The coastal zone is home to 21,000 hectares of mangrove forests, one of Earth’s most natural protectors against the impacts of climate change, which include unpredictable monsoons, rising tides, cyclones – or hurricanes – and even tsunamis, while acting as carbon sinks that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their soil, plants and other sediments, called blue carbon.
The Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) – which received a grant from Apple in 2021 – is exploring the region with a plan to safeguard the future of these mangroves by creating alternative and sustainable industries in local communities that cultivate and benefit from the biodiversity and resilience of mangrove ecosystems. The conservation agreements will provide sustained support to village members in return for conserving the land and transitioning the local economy to one that relies on maintaining intact and healthy mangroves.
The AERF will also apply learnings from Conservation International’s blue carbon pilot project in Cispatá, Colombia, launched in 2018.
“The fight against climate change is a fight for communities around the world whose lives and livelihoods are most at risk from the crisis, and that’s where we’ve focused our work – from Colombia to Kenya in through the Philippines,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives. “Our new partnership in India continues this momentum, helping a community to benefit economically from the restoration of mangrove forests that protect against the worst impacts of climate change.”
Archana Godbole, Director of AERF, has loved nature since childhood. “Plants are a representation of age and time,” she says. “And the trees represent patience. They are silent spectators of time – the more I studied and understood them, the more they humiliated me. My experiences have instilled in me that I want to work for conservation and save trees and forests.
Godbole, a trained plant taxonomist, has specialized in community conservation for the past 30 years. In Raigad, the AERF is pursuing conservation agreements with communities that have lost their crops and fertile agricultural fields due to saltwater intrusion and the destruction of man-made dykes.
“People here and their ancestors were farmers, and suddenly the ocean came to their doorstep,” says Godbole. “But people learned new skills and coped with their new situation. Now that we all know that mangroves are important for climate change and carbon sequestration, we are very happy to have reached this place and are trying to collaborate with people here to see how mangroves will bring them more benefits. We hope that a deep connection with the land and the mangroves will be established in their minds.
Below are the faces of these villages and a glimpse of the resilience to growing climate calamities in the communities many call home.
Karanjveera is a small inland village that is home to many farmers and fishermen – whose catch usually includes crabs and small shrimp – and their families. Namdev Waitaram More is a village elder and an expert in traditional fishing methods. At 75, he has lived his whole life peacefully alongside the mangroves and respects their protective qualities which have prevented salt water from entering their rice paddies.
More and his cousin are now helping to connect other community members with AERF to discuss conservation of salt marshes and mangroves in the village. “Mangroves act like a sponge,” he says. “People are connected to the mangroves here. If they disappear, our dikes will disappear and our rice paddies will also disappear. Because we are connected through our food, our dykes and our mangroves, we survive.
Usha and her son, Tushar Thakur, are farmers from Hashiware, a village along the Amba River whose farmland has been submerged in salt water since the local levee broke in 1990. The land is now its own mangrove forest, but remnants of the past. sprinkle the scene, while abandoned houses spring from the muddy waters a few meters from the river bank. Thakur was one of the first members of the village to sign a conservation agreement with the AERF to protect the mangroves.
Since 1996, mangroves have covered agricultural land that once belonged to Hashiware farmers.
“With our work and awareness of the importance of mangroves,” says AERF’s Godbole, “and the opportunities to create sustainable income-generating activities, we have given hope to coastal communities in Raigad.”
The power of mangroves to protect coastal villages in India has recently been demonstrated. After a massive underwater earthquake in Indonesia triggered a series of tsunamis that hit India’s east coast in 2004, people realized that mangroves were the silent guardians of communities, absorbing the shock of huge waves and protecting the villages that lay beyond. In recent years, the area has seen more frequent strong cyclones, including Nisarga in 2020 and Tauktae in 2021. In Raigad, families in the villages work to protect the mangroves and therefore their own well-being and livelihoods. of subsistence. .
In the village of Ganesh Patti, farmers have agreed to maintain their respective portions of the dyke that separates farmland from the mangroves and the river banks. But the individual interview was not enough. According to local fisherman Mangesh Patil, whose house is now hollow and surrounded by mangroves, strong waves and rising tides have led to its gradual destruction.
But for everyone in the vanished village, it seemed to happen overnight.
“While we were sleeping,” Patil recounts, “there was a high tide, and suddenly the water came in and our mattresses were soaked with water. In the morning, we realized that the whole village had been overwhelmed.
As the water receded, families registered the loss of their land and livelihoods – they knew they would have to start over. After moving to a nearby village, many people, including Patil and his brother, decided to continue visiting their old homes, returning to their local Hindu temple, and fishing and crabbing in the waters of their childhood.
“Man should learn to survive in any situation that nature has given him,” says Patil. “That’s what we did, and now there’s a connection between us and these mangroves. This is our birthplace — we were happy here. So we will continue to come here.
In addition to funding conservation agreements with local villages, Apple’s grant supports the purchase and distribution of portable bio-stoves that allow people to cook without cutting down mangroves for firewood.
Bhavik Patil, a local fisherman and expert in mangrove-based livelihood activities from Pen Vashi, helped the AERF navigate the discussions in Raigad villages. Coming from a family of fishermen, Patil remembers his childhood, when his parents tied a swing to the mangrove trees for him and his brothers to play on when they went out into the river. Today, in addition to fishing and crabbing, he is one of many negotiators with members of their villages – including Mothe Bhal and Vithalwadi – to conserve and sustainably use the mangroves. To help with conservation, he and his counterparts ask them to collect dried branches that have already fallen from trees.
For AERF members, protecting mangroves is more than a job, it’s their passion. Godbole and co-founder Jayant Sarnaik started the organization 27 years ago, and they have continued their conservation mission through the involvement of people on the ground.
“Building resilience to climate change is an ongoing process for communities living near the sea,” says AERF’s Sarnaik. “As these communities have lived on the coast for a very long time, they are very familiar with the ocean and its relationship with the climate. For them, climate change is not a new phenomenon; however, they have undergone drastic changes over the past five to ten years. Recent cyclones have sensitized these populations to the importance of mangroves as the strongest natural defense against such calamities. It has also raised awareness in the wider community about mangroves.
As Godbole describes, the future looks bright. “Collaborating with Apple and Conservation International is a great opportunity to explore how mangrove conservation and community benefits can go hand in hand,” she says. “While the mangrove conservation issues are diverse and different in every location, here in our project area, the opportunities are also plentiful. Training our young and enthusiastic team and local communities in blue carbon will surely help us go a long way towards achieving mangrove conservation in this vibrant coastal area along the Arabian Sea.
Apple is committed to efforts around the world to provide climate resilience and economic benefits to communities most affected by climate change. Over the past year, the company has supported a first-of-its-kind Sunk Carbon Funding Lab with Conservation International to protect some of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, and has funded research and pilot projects to increase natural carbon sinks in China. with the China Green Carbon Foundation. And in addition to donating to the World Wildlife Fund with every Apple Pay purchase of Apple products at an Apple Store, in the Apple Store app, or on apple.com during Earth Week, Apple also supports the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Crowd program. Community-driven WWF. climate resilience and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods.
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